Disclaimer's note: I do not own Merlin, Arthur, Uther, Gaius, Morgana, Gwen, or Nimueh.
Setting: After 'Defenceless' (the prequel story to this)
Merlin leaned over the battlement's wall, taking in the sights. He did this often and usually spent more than an hour gazing out at the scenery. But for him, the scenery wasn't green, it was silver.
His confrontation with Nimueh not three weeks ago had awakened a new part within him, a magical part. And now, he saw the world through a sorcerer's eyes. The world was still full of its different colours and shades, but now, everything had extra colours. Silver, gold and red… Merlin had quickly discerned their meanings.
Silver was neutral, neither good nor bad. It was how many of his spells looked when he wasn't casting them for a particular reason. Gold was the colour of goodness. He saw it everywhere, a mother spoiling her child with a treat, a man lovingly tending to his horse. And then, there was red. Red was all the badness that existed. He knew that everyone contained some red, just like they had some gold and silver in them too.
Another thing he had learnt: magic flowed. It was a swirling mist in the air, in people, and just generally in the world. He absentmindedly wondered how Uther would respond to knowing this fact. He'd probably kill Merlin just for saying it.
He returned his attention to the countryside ahead of him, watching a very dark red light make its way towards the castle. Nimueh was less than a day away from Camelot. He silently wished the witch would turn around and go back to whatever hole that she had crawled out of.
"The view hasn't changed, you know?"
Merlin started, looking up to stare at Arthur, the king's son and his master. Confusion swirled around in Arthur.
Another useful trick that he'd learnt from this. Emotions were essential to the workings of magic, and so, in turn, emotion would affect the magic around it. So, literally, unless a person was in the right frame of mind and emotional state, they would not be able to perform magic. He had only the servants and nobility to observe, and they were proving to be quite a boring study of emotion-moved magic.
Arthur, on the other hand, was fascinating. He knew that Arthur had many faces, depending on the situation, and he would behave in several different ways throughout one morning. It was even more interesting now that he could see the differences inside Arthur.
Three weeks of watching had taught Merlin to know, within acceptable parameters, the exact emotional form of the prince, and what face he was wearing at the moment.
At that point in time, Merlin would go for confused, concerned friend.
"Does that matter?" he asked rhetorically, before returning to watch Nimueh's approach.
"Merlin," Arthur joined his side, seeing that Merlin wasn't going to stop watching an unmoving landscape. "You've stared at this part of Camelot for three weeks, now. What is fascinating about this particular side of it?"
Merlin had only told Gaius that Nimueh was coming to Camelot, and Gaius had been sceptical, saying to Merlin that it was only nerves from facing her one-to-one. And, honestly, he wasn't comfortable that the only person he could tell didn't believe him. It left him with very few options.
None of those options included telling Arthur the truth.
"Something always changes," he muttered, thinking of Nimueh.
"Not really," Arthur disagreed, noticing the dark mood of his usually mild-mannered friend and servant. "People are going about their daily lives, coming and going as they normally do."
Merlin didn't reply, but decided that examining the mortar of the battlements was more interesting than the conversation. He could feel the desire to explain everything to Arthur, but knew that one of three things would happen if he did.
One: Arthur would believe he was joking and would chastise him for poor taste. Two: Arthur would think that Merlin was mentally unstable and order Gaius to give him a full medical examination. Three: Arthur would believe him, and then have him brought before Uther. The end result would inevitably be him at the executioner's block.
None of the results sounded very appealing, and so he said nothing.
"Come on," Arthur suddenly declared, trying to be cheerful to alleviate the mood. "I've got something you and I could do."
Merlin looked at him, his eyes calculating. It was a new expression, and it made Arthur's skin crawl. It was like his servant was staring right through him and seeing something beneath all of his pretences. He had noticed this look about three weeks ago, when he had been… incapacitated, and when Merlin had fought the sorceress, Nimueh, for his soul, his being.
Merlin had changed quite a lot after that, and he wasn't the only one. It seemed like everyone was more than happy to avoid him, and no one wanted to bring up the subject of those few days. This made him feel tense, and he wanted to blow off steam.
"Duelling?" Merlin asked with a groan, remembering all the bruises he had been given from this pastime previously.
Arthur had learnt not to be surprised, but he was still unnerved by Merlin's question that was more like an objection. Duelling was exactly what he'd had in mind. Merlin had become really good at guessing Arthur's choices, almost to the point where he wasn't guessing.
"Sure, why not?" he asked jovially. "We haven't sparred for sometime, and I'm getting out of practise."
He left the wall, caught hold of Merlin's jacket and gently pulled as he walked away. He felt Merlin resist for a moment before giving in and following him to the courtyard and over to the sparing grounds.
He noticed Morgana and Gwen were watching them from beneath an awning. They had also noticed Merlin's change in demeanour, and while this merely confused Morgana, it was extremely worrying for her handmaiden. If anything, it was Merlin's behaviour that was the reason behind them talking to Arthur, and it was more than a little depressing for the prince.
"Arthur," Morgana called teasingly. "Merlin's only just returned to duties. Do you plan on giving him another week off?"
Arthur smiled at the comment. Then, he was surprised to notice that Merlin was shaking a little, a smile on his face. His surprise quickly turned to pleasure. Seeing Merlin in a good mood was something that lifted Arthur's heart slightly. It made him feel like it was more than three weeks ago, back when everything was normal and everyone was acting like they normally would.
He picked up two training staffs, since he didn't want to hurt Merlin, and handed one to his friend. Merlin was grimacing when he took the staff reluctantly from Arthur; his dislike of the pastime was obvious.
"Don't worry," Arthur smiled. "I'll go easy on you."
Merlin flashed an unhappy smile, before stepping back a yard and holding himself to a stance that he'd seen Arthur use. He watched the prince step back as well, dropping into a stance that was comfortable and easy for him to hold.
Then, they engaged in the fight. Arthur went straight for Merlin's side, which was blocked. Merlin went for Arthur's chest, and his attack was knocked to a side. They both followed the momentum and spun round, the staffs knocking together when they faced each other. Merlin skipped back two steps, correcting his grip on his staff, and waited for Arthur's next move. Arthur made for Merlin's shoulder, until his staff rebounded off his opponent's. Merlin made a down cut, to which Arthur blocked easily. Arthur slashed in front of him, causing Merlin to jump backwards, splaying his arms to avoid getting hit. The Merlin knelt and took a swipe at Arthur's legs. Arthur jumped, instinctively bringing his arms inwards, realising too late that his staff was moving at a frightening speed towards Merlin's head.
Merlin saw the staff coming his way, the light of its directed path all too clear for him. But he knew that Arthur hadn't done this on purpose, he could see the shock and fear in the other man's light.
He could feel some other part of him ordering him what to do. Listening to it, he closed his eyes and bent his head back as far as he could, leaning backward whilst he did that. He could hear someone scream, and the air whistled as the staff flew past his overly exposed neck.
The silver light of the ground was coming to him quite quickly, and the instinct, which he had just obeyed, told him to move his hands and stop his fall. But Merlin knew that that was pushing it, and so brought his head forward and waited for the thud as his back hit the ground, knocking the air out of him.
"Ooof!" he grunted, pain flaring up his back. "Argh!" he exclaimed two seconds later when Arthur landed on him, sending the prince sprawling to the ground.
Merlin heard several profanities leave Arthur's mouth. He could see that the prince felt utterly humiliated by the position he was in right now, his face half cover in grass shoots, his hair ruffled unintentionally, and the fact that his legs were tangled up in Merlin's.
"Sorry," Merlin gasped, since Arthur had landed on his stomach.
Arthur pulled himself out of the tangle, dazedly rising to his feet, before turning to Merlin. He noted to himself that Merlin hadn't moved, and worried if he had hurt his friend. But, he was glad to see that there was no large red mark on Merlin's head, face or neck. That meant that his staff had missed.
But that brought a question to mind, and he wasn't sure how to ask. He decided that he'd ask it bluntly, it would get it over with, and he'd have a straight answer.
"How did you dodge my staff?!" he could hear the awe in his voice.
And, he had to admit, even if Merlin had landed on his back, it had been a damn impressive move.
"I don't know," Merlin replied after a second, obviously trying to right the thoughts in his head. The landing had looked painful and had probably scrambled the poor boy's head for a moment. "Instinct?" Merlin offered, pitifully.
Arthur shook his head, incredulously. He was about to comment when he heard footsteps running to them. His turned his head to see Morgana and Gwen sprinting towards them, well… sprinting as much as a dress would let them. They didn't bother hiding their concern for the two boys.
"What was that?!" Morgana demanded angrily.
"Merlin thought he'd try out for acrobatics, didn't you Merlin?" Arthur joked, extending a hand to his downed friend, which Merlin took without a second thought.
"Yeah," he lied. "Looks like I need more practise though," he smiled at Arthur, who, in turn, smiled back.
"That looked painful," Gwen frowned, worry evident in her eyes.
"Yeah, it was," Merlin nodded, taking a few steps away from Arthur's immediate reach. "Arthur's heavy."
Arthur turned to glare at Merlin, but found he was glaring at his friend's radiant face, which only seemed to brighten the longer he glared. It had been a long time since Merlin had been in such high spirits, and it was almost a crime to bring him crashing down.
Beside him, Arthur could hear Morgana chortling at his expense. Of course, being a lady of court and his father's ward, Morgana was one of the few who could laugh at him and get away with it.
"Merlin, you're bleeding," Gwen suddenly stated, looking worriedly at the back of his head.
Merlin reached his hand behind his head and gently felt his scalp. He winced slightly when his fingers brushed over the cut, but he could tell that the wound was superficial. Gaius could easily clean it and send him on his way.
"It's not that serious," he shrugged.
"Well then," Arthur strode over to Merlin and hung his arm over Merlin's shoulders. "Let's get Gaius to clean it up. We'll see you two later," he called over his shoulder as he wheeled Merlin away.
When Arthur was sure that they were out of earshot from Morgana and Gwen, he lowered his arm and faced Merlin.
"You know, that was one heck of a fall," he started, and noticed Merlin tense up slightly. "I'm sure it's more serious than you said it was," he frowned as Merlin refused to look at him. "You frightened Gwen, you know?"
That was the reaction he'd been looking for, sort of. Merlin twitched his head in Arthur's direction, his lips taut. It was obvious that Merlin was about to say something, but then, he remembered who he was about to talk to and stared forward, not speaking.
Arthur had no idea what Merlin had been close to saying. Frighten her? That was the least he did to her.
He had chastised himself over it for weeks, berating his stupidity and inattentiveness. He wondered quite often how the heck he could have missed it, all the signs had been there, but he hadn't had the sense to see them.
Whenever Gwen so much as looked at him, the magic that flowed about her changed dramatically. He could only describe it as snow, golden snow that would rise into a whirlwind at the smallest breeze, dancing in the light. It was an incredible thing to behold. He wondered how he had ever missed how she felt about him, when it was so obvious in her. How he could only realise this now, now that he could see her light.
And that was another unique feature about Gwen: she was practically all gold and silver. If the magic about her was a dress, it would only have ten threads of blood red. Again, the sight of her was breathtaking.
Merlin then realised that he was walking in the courtyard that was the main entrance to the castle. He stopped and stared at the gate. He could only guess the time he had left before someone walked through it.
"What's wrong, Merlin?" Arthur frowned anxiously, looking from the gate to Merlin.
Merlin sighed wistfully. He knew that he couldn't tell Arthur the truth. But… that didn't mean that he couldn't tell half-truths.
"You didn't see her," he whispered, but he knew that Arthur had heard him.
"What happened?" Arthur asked after a short pause to let the shock leave his face. He knew that Merlin didn't like talking about his confrontation with the sorceress, Nimueh.
"She was so… furious," Merlin explained, quietly. "She was furious that I got away, more so since I left with you."
"You expect retribution?" Arthur frowned, not seeing the connection.
"She thought she was going to kill me, so she told me that she planned for Camelot to fall. She didn't expect me to… survive."
Arthur didn't respond right away, but instead followed his friend's gaze to the battlements. He suddenly felt like he understood what Merlin had been doing. Merlin had been watching for Nimueh to come.
"Every guard knows what she looks like, Merlin," he soothed. "She won't get within three miles of Camelot," he promised his anxious friend.
Merlin bit his lip, and Arthur knew that he wasn't convinced.
"Everything's going to be fine," Arthur stated confidently.
"You think I'm worried about me?" Merlin frowned, confused and disbelieving. "I'm an annoyance. There's no way she'd just come for me," Merlin sounded so sure of the fact, Arthur felt more than a little disturbed by Merlin's assertion.
They stared at each other for a time. Neither was willing to back down from their convictions, and they both knew how stubborn the other was on occasion. Thankfully, their battle was called off when someone behind them called out: it was Gwen and Morgana.
Arthur returned his gaze to Merlin for a moment, before advancing towards the girls. He let Merlin come in his own time.
Merlin made to follow, but suddenly stopped. He knew that a look of horror was on his face, and he knew that it was well placed.
The world had taken on a sickening tint of blood red. He turned to find the cause of the disturbing change, and he was not disappointed.
There she stood, Nimueh, on the castle gate entrance. She was staring right back at him. He could see the fury inside her, and the joy at being able to finally rid herself of this nuisance.
"ARTHUR!!" he yelled in terror.
Arthur spun round as if he had been struck by lightening. Unadulterated fear was in the prince's face, fear at what had caused such distress to his friend.
Then, Arthur disappeared. Gwen disappeared. Morgana disappeared. The courtyard turned and was distorted. From all this, Merlin could tell that he'd been hit by a very powerful spell.
Arthur watched in horror as Merlin was suddenly swept up and thrown across the courtyard. It was as if his friend was nothing but a child's doll, being thrown away during a tantrum. He flinched when he saw Merlin land limply, painfully. His body went ice cold when Merlin didn't move, simply laying on the cobblestones in that horrific, twisted position.
He could barely dare to, but he slowly turned his head to stare in fear and horror at the figure standing by the castle gates. Anger and hatred suddenly filled him up and burned in his icy body as he recognised the figure.
Nimueh had come to Camelot… just like Merlin had said.
"Knights of Camelot!" He bellowed, removing his sword from its sheath. "To me!" he ordered.
A small group of men quickly ran to Arthur's side. He could see that they were all trembling slightly, but he wasn't sure what they feared, his anger or Nimueh's power.
Gwen, on the other hand, had fled up the courtyard. As she reached Merlin's still body, she fell on her hands and knees and crawled the last yard to him.
"Merlin! Merlin no!" Gwen cried in a breathless, hoarse voice.
She reached out gingerly. The young man was dead, and she knew that he would still be warm under her touch. She knew that she would feel broken bones beneath his skin. Maybe she would tear way her hand, with specs of blood on her fingertips.
Very, very gingerly, with a quivering hand, she touched Merlin's shoulder.
"Argh!" Merlin exclaimed, causing Gwen to jump back half a foot.
"Merlin!" Gwen almost screeched as she returned to his side.
"Feddyginiaetha 'm chorff, atgyweiria 'm esgyrn," Merlin murmured.
Gwen frowned, not understanding what he'd just said, and suddenly feeling very unsafe, for some reason. And then she saw why.
Merlin's body began to click in painful sounding places. His wrist moved from a sickening angle to one that was natural, he was even flexing his fingers. Soon, the sounds stopped and Merlin rose tentatively.
All Gwen could do was stare.
Merlin looked around, until he saw Arthur and his knights approaching Nimueh. As his eyes narrowed in on the sorceress, he suddenly became exquisitely aware of the magic around him, and he could feel the golden light within him begin to burn brightly and it shone in his eyes.
Unexpectedly, all the colours of the world faded into nothing, leaving him just the sight of silver, gold and blood red. And, he could see a fierce fire of crimson surging out from one point, Nimueh. Before it, though, were several beings of silver and gold, Arthur and his knights.
Merlin walked forwards, to finish the battle that Nimueh had started, when something caught his wrist.
"Merlin, what are you doing?" Gwen asked fearfully.
He turned round to look into the swirling lights that made up Guinevere. He could see her fear and knew that part of it was caused by him, but he didn't have time to explain.
"Let go, Gwen," He ordered softly, though she had already loosened her grip.
He turned back to Arthur and Nimueh and stormed forward. No one was going to die until he'd had his shot. When he realised that the knights weren't moving out of his way, he sought to persuade them.
"MOVE!" he demanded in a voice of authority quite unlike his own.
Arthur flinched, twisting his head back. He had expected to see his father. He hadn't expected to see Merlin. Even more, he hadn't expected to see Merlin staring straight past him, his eyes burning a fierce gold, and a strange aura swirling out and around him.
He didn't know what was going on, but he wasn't about to ask. He aptly moved out of Merlin's way, goggling as he strode past without hesitation.
Merlin stood in front of the knights and glared at Nimueh. She seemed shocked that he was standing before her. She was shocked that she hadn't killed him.
"Bwra aes amdana a achlesa 'm chynghreiriaid!" he called out clear as day, and felt the shield wrap itself around him and everyone else except Nimueh.
"Berwa 'r chrau mewn 'n hwy gwythi!" Nimueh screamed out.
Merlin saw a wave of red magic sent outwards, and he held still, watching… waiting. Then the curse made contact with his spell and it cracked with the strength of thunderclouds. He vaguely noticed that those behind him had cowered at the sight and then flinched at the sound.
"Mai danio arwyrain i fyny a brydia 'ch!" he shouted back a curse, stretching out his hand towards his opponent.
"Archa 'r briddo at chysgoga a gwasg!"
The ground shook beneath them, sending many of the bystanders to fall to the floor. Mortar from the buildings fell downwards, battering Merlin's defensive shield. He did not return a curse, but instead focused on maintaining his protection, and knew that Nimueh would press an advantage.
"Alwa addoed at d a gwna chreiniaist 'ch ben," she whispered softly
Merlin knew what was coming, and quickly thought hard. He didn't know how to stop such a powerful curse, but then realised that he knew how to lessen the effects.
"Bod 'n drugarog a achosa na 'n annhymerus!" he cried out in desperation.
The two spells collided with the crack to rival thunder. He could see the majority of the curse had been stopped. However, when the remainder of the curse touched the shield, he felt it wrap itself around him.
He felt dreadfully tired, exhausted to the point of collapsing. He knew that he had to do something, anything, or else he was fall asleep and Nimueh would win. He spoke the first spell that came to mind.
"Alltudia 'ch chan Camelot," he muttered through the trappings of sleep.
Then he saw a gold wave leave towards Nimueh and when it reached her, she screeched in surprise and then suddenly, she was gone.
He felt himself land on one of his knees painfully. He was vaguely aware of someone walking cautiously towards him.
"Merlin?" a familiar, if extremely wary, voice echoed through his ears.
"Arthur…" he murmured. "Camelot… safe…"
And with that, he collapsed.